6. Prince of Darkness (1987)

The second installment of Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy, Prince of Darkness takes a creative approach to a story of demonic possession by mixing in Carpenter's interest in theoretical physics. A group of scientists investigate a cylinder of mysterious green liquid found in the basement of an abandoned church; the goop turns out to be the father of Satan himself. Visually striking, the film looks like part Poltergeist, part Un Chien Andalou. (Crawling ants meet projectile vomiting.) It also features a brief cameo by Alice Cooper, who displays one of the most ingenious uses of a bicycle I've ever seen.


5. They Live (1988)

In 1988, few knew what to make of this dark sci-fi satire about a world of subliminal alien control visible only through special sunglasses. Recent critics have viewed it more favorably as a sharp, funny satire of '80s conservatism. Even its B-movie aesthetics look better than they did at the time. Regardless of how you feel about its politics, the film features one of the longest and most hilarious fight sequences in film history, along with the endlessly quotable line, "I've come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I'm all out of bubblegum."

4. Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

Carpenter's genre-mashing reached its pinnacle with this epic action-adventure comedy. Take a dash of kung-fu and a sprinkle of urban gangster, add equal parts John Wayne and the Marx Brothers, and you'll have an idea of what to expect from this extravaganza. Kurt Russell again delivers a stellar performance, this time as Jack Burton, the all-American truck driver who talks big but generally falls on his ass when it comes to actual heroism. Dragged into an ancient battle beneath Chinatown, Burton enters a world of feuding demons, devils, gods, and martial artists, with a giant floating eyeball thrown in for good measure. If Big Trouble isn't Carpenter's very best movie, it's almost certainly his most fun.


3. Escape From New York (1981)

Carpenter's fifth feature has the kind of diabolical exploitation-film premise someone like Quentin Tarantino could only dream of making up. Set in a dystopic 1997, Escape finds Manhattan surrounded by a fifty-foot containment wall and used as a prison for the nation's most violent criminals. But when Air Force One crash-lands in the heart of the city, the government can only count on one man to bring back the President. Enter Snake Plissken, the recently captured war hero turned criminal who's as dangerous as he is expendable. Kurt Russell gave a career-defining performance as the one-eyed antihero, creating an urban Billy the Kid who audiences couldn't help but root for, and Carpenter managed to create a convincing future New York in all its gritty detail on a remarkably small budget.


2. Halloween (1978)

Ushering in the age of the slasher flick, Halloween did for babysitting what Psycho did for motel showers. Apart from its universally recognizable theme music (composed by Carpenter himself), Halloween features one of the most iconic villains in film history, Michael Myers, who embodies everything that goes bump in the night — a faceless terror who is as relentless as he is invincible. But what separates this film from the countless imitations that followed is the artistry behind the film's suspense. Carpenter's tracking shots and wide-angle lenses build a sense of impending doom from all directions; his deliberate pacing gradually builds tension to unbearable levels. Indebted to the Hitchcock ethos that less is more, Halloween is often scariest when it's not showing you something. Many directors have attempted sequels and remakes of this classic, but none have matched the craftsmanship of Carpenter's original.


1. The Thing (1982)

If Halloween was about faceless terror, Carpenter's remake of the 1951 B-movie The Thing From Another World aimed to give its villain the most terrifying face possible. Set in the secluded wasteland of the Antarctic, The Thing concerns a group of scientists who encounter an alien species capable of mimicking human form. The scientists realize that one or more of them may already be infected by the alien, resulting in an atmosphere of paranoia more dangerous than the monster itself. The Thing has no false notes. The plot is tight; the characters and setting create an gripping sense of hysteria and claustrophobia; and the revolutionary creature effects by Rob Bottin remain more convincing and inventive than any CGI could match. A commercial failure at the time, The Thing in all its pessimistic glory is now considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made. It's Carpenter's masterpiece.

Commentarium (121 Comments)

Jul 07 11 - 12:28am
Pat G.

I would rank In the Mouth of Madness and The Fog much higher. While Carpenter may not like The Fog, I have always found it somewhat charming and very enjoyable to watch.

Oct 29 11 - 6:04pm

agreed, both should be much higher, and escape from LA should be much lower. I really love the classic style ghost story of The Fog

Jul 02 12 - 1:31am

Agreed. There's something fun about The Fog. It's not a great movie, but it's enjoyable to watch it all unwind. And Adrienne Barbeau carries the movie.

Jul 07 11 - 5:36am

No exception, The Thing is the scariest horror movie of all time. A perfect film.

Jul 07 11 - 8:46pm

The scariest movie ever made is, in fact, Mommie Dearest. The scene with the wire hangers still gives me the chills...and 30 years later I still can't use them.

Jul 11 11 - 7:43pm

The scariest movie ever made is, in fact, The Thing. The scene with the writhing shooting tentacles freaked me out then, and freaks me out now. It is, in fact, a perfect film.

BTW... Mommie Dearest is lame. @IMNS, go back to your pillow biting kleenex wringing sadeness.

Jul 11 11 - 10:13pm
Boson Higgs

Mommie Dearest was the biggest pillow-biter I've ever seen in my life. A good way to soil an entire box of kleenex in one night.

Jul 11 11 - 11:06pm

Is Mommie Dearest the movie with Roseanne in it?

Jul 12 11 - 12:18am

The parts when the huskie pups are killed/turned into the thing are the most horrific. WAH! WITTLE PUPPIES!!

Jul 12 11 - 8:11pm
Alan Coffee

Waaa! The little doggies tur ninto monsters! Sooooooo much better than that fairy Mommie Dearest lame ass shit. The Thing totally dominates as the best sci-fi horror flick ever produced.

Jul 15 11 - 6:32pm

Agreed. The Thing owns, saw it again this year & it still owns in every sense of the word 'horror'. Also, In the Mouth of Madness needs to be higher on this list...that's a great film - better than Vampires.

Jun 10 12 - 11:32pm

@INXS In fact 'The Thing' isn't even scary at all. Period. It failed at the box office.

Jul 11 12 - 8:57pm
Unseen Simon

@Coffee....That's a load of bollocks. The thing is loaded with atmosphere and as it progresses, paranoia grows. I recently watched the original back to back with Carpenter's and Carpenter's, despite the simplicity of the script...oozed flaws. What grabbed me about the original was the depth of the characters and that there are a few things going at the same time. You become embroiled in these events, so when the thing is revealed lurking behind the door, it is far more effective. Lancaster's script coupled with Carpenter's direction, at best, capture an atmosphere...other than that, I was a bit disappointed, as I used to love Carpenter's version.

Jul 07 11 - 9:07am

I don't disagree with your top three, but you're way off with 'The Fog" and several others. But any Carpenter appreciation is welcome and deserved.

Jul 12 11 - 8:11pm

No, you dumbass. He was way off with "The Fag". The Fog rocked my balls, girlfriend.

Jul 07 11 - 9:25am

Great article. I agree with the top two; my own list would have 'The Fog' all the way up at number 3, 'Escape From New York' at 4, and 'Assault on Precinct 13 at 5.
It'll be interesting to see where Carpenter's skills are at now. When he's in top form he's great, but there's a whole lot of films on this list that look worse than something that's made-for-TV. 'Dark Star' looks more expensive and professional than most of the films he made post 'Thing'.

Jul 12 11 - 10:23pm
Roy Lee Horwell

Who gives a flying fuck what you think?

Jul 15 11 - 1:07pm

Wow, tough internet bitch, arntcha?

Jul 07 11 - 9:57am

I re-watched The Thing recently, and was struck by how well it aged, and the special effects were better than many recent CGI-reliant movies.

Jul 07 11 - 2:37pm

Absulutely timeless

Jul 11 11 - 7:45pm

An utter masterpiece of paranoia and isolation. I bought The Thing for $45 when it came out on DVD (having rented the VHS when it came out) and have never regretted a penny of that $45 through a dozen watchings.

Aug 16 11 - 2:23am

Wait, why in the fuck did The Thing cost you $45 dollars? Did you at least get some ice cream or a lap dance along with it?

Nov 26 11 - 12:56am

He probably had to pay Donald Sutherland to break into the DVD factory and make him a wax impression of the original master disc.

Jul 07 11 - 11:53am
G Unit

Have to see Dark Star and Mouth of Madness but from the ones I have seen the top 6 are dead on.

Jul 07 11 - 2:56pm
Jan L.

Vampires was the worst flick ever. Godamn it.

Jul 08 11 - 5:15am

i agree.

Jul 07 11 - 4:37pm

How can Big Trouble In Little China be his 4th best movie when it is the best movie ever made?

Jul 11 11 - 7:46pm

Because BTILC is the best movie ever made except for 3 other works by Carpenter. Surprised I had to explain that to you.

Jul 11 11 - 10:13pm

i agree.

Jul 07 11 - 11:44pm

THE FOG was no HALLOWEEN, but it was a damn fine ghost story. Ranking it below VILLAGE (or any of his post THEY LIVE output) indicates that you need to put down the crack pipe.

Jul 08 11 - 11:00am
Alan Coffee

The Fog blows.

Jul 11 11 - 7:48pm
Sam Tea

The Fog was great. When I first saw it, I was obsessed by Adrienne's delicious breasts, but that story was great too. Good entertainment, plus boobs.

Jul 11 11 - 9:17pm
Alan Coffee

The only boobs in that movie are mummy boobs. And mummy boobs are gross.

Jul 11 11 - 10:14pm
Sam Tea

@Alan - Dude, you are so wrong. Your mummys boobs are delish. Want some pics?

Jul 11 11 - 10:32pm
Alan Coffee

They're already laminated and hanging in my shower

Jul 12 11 - 8:14pm
Sam Tea

God damn! How the fuck do you laminate boobs?

Jul 12 11 - 8:18pm
Alan Coffee

One at a time?

Jul 12 11 - 10:23pm

i agree.

Jul 08 11 - 10:55am
Sean Matthews

How can Dark Star be only number 14 on this list?

Jul 08 11 - 11:57am

Austin and I had a lively debate about that. I think Dark Star rules, but I also like Escape From LA more than Escape From NY...

Jul 11 11 - 10:16pm
Alan Coffee

Because, Sean, you're the kind of retread imbecile that prefers anime to real porn. Go back to comics. Dark Star might as well have been made on Super-8 on your parent's honeymoon.

Jul 11 11 - 10:33pm
Alan Coffee

That was mean to say, Alan Coffee.

Jul 12 11 - 8:15pm
Alan Coffee

Soory Alan, I had too much coffee. It makes me jittery and sometimes causes me to rampage with my electric chainsaw and dismember largely innocent bystanders. (I mean, who is TRULY innocent? No one, right?)

Jul 13 11 - 12:39am
Alan Coffee

Shoelaces are innocent. So are hologram cards.

Jul 13 11 - 6:45pm
Sam Tea

Shoelaces? Shoelaces? You mean the shoelaces that were tightly wrapped around that fat fuck's throat as I bound him to a chair and watched him turn purple, vainly gasping for air, fingernails clawing at his throat, spittle drooling off his chin, heart palpitating as the darkness slowly settled in? No, sir, those shoelaces were the work of Satan.

Hologram cards, now there I have to agree with you, were largely blameless in the matter.

Jul 08 11 - 12:54pm

Wow. Thats all I have to say. The fog got ranked lower than Children of the Damned and Vampires. Who ever did this list, just saying, you suck. Now maybe it's because I'm some fat shit horror nerd, realy thats how you would rank these?

Jul 08 11 - 2:05pm
Alan Coffee

I say again--The Fog blows. And you are fat.

Jul 11 11 - 7:50pm
Sam Tea

What an anus sucking retrotard. Coffee, you also utterly lack any judgement whatsoever. Go back to your Donny and Marie Osmond reruns, you vacant inbreed.

Jul 11 11 - 9:20pm
Alan Coffee

Donny and Osmond got canceled. Laverne and Shirley is my shit.

Jul 11 11 - 10:18pm
Sam Tea

@Coffee - fuck off! You are so evil. Laverne and Shirley? I felt a disturbance in the force itself when you posted that comment and immediately knew that I must return to the nerve to combat this spreading blight. Another job well done! Meet you at 5PM after shift at the diner for some beverage? Tick's gonna be there.

Jul 11 11 - 10:23pm
Alan Coffee

The force has been disturbed, Sammy. Tick owes me $10 dollars in late fees.

Jul 12 11 - 8:16pm
Sam Tea

Tick is a whore for crimefightin'. Together we make a mean team! Let's go laminate some arch-enemy boobs, bro!

Jul 08 11 - 2:07pm

I love spreading the gospel of the "The Thing". It has aged so well and so few people under 30 have seen it, showed it to my gf recently and she loved it! Well, except for the part with the dogs.

Jul 09 11 - 4:35pm

I just showed it to my husband for the first time a month or so ago and he loved it too...I am such a nerd and he hasn't even seen the star wars movies, however did we get together i ask?

Jul 11 11 - 7:52pm

@Shawn, I'm there with you man. I always showcase The Thing as a classic of the art world, bringing the stark reality of paranoia and isolation the the viewers. It's up there with the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

Jul 12 11 - 12:31am

i asked my mom for a huskie 'thing' puppy for my birthday and she said no.

Jul 12 11 - 8:20pm

@Schnookie - it's not the huskie 'thing' puppy, it's the flamethrower kit that you have to buy with it. That's a lot of cash, little cowboy! Pucker up, things will improve when market demand and supply laws take over and Things are everywhere. Flamethrowers will plummet in price and then you can get the huskie 'thing' puppy and your flamethrower and confrom to local code.

A. Nony Mouse

Jul 08 11 - 2:48pm

"this film also features the kind of vampires without relationship problems or curfews, for which we should all be grateful. "
Amen to that!
"The Thing" rules!

Jul 11 11 - 7:52pm

The Thing ROOOLZ!

Jul 08 11 - 8:04pm

You ever seen the movie Ghost of Mars...onnnn weeeeeeeddddd???

Jul 10 11 - 6:07am

Ghost of Mars feels like a John Carpenter rip-off...

Jul 11 11 - 11:27pm

I think he was taking a lot of acid at that point in his life. Natasha Henstridge is FIIINNNEEE though. She's got that space pooch going on.

Jul 08 11 - 9:20pm

Gotta go with the others and say "The Fog" deserves to be higher. That film was moody and while I can't remember the plot since I haven't seen it in so long, I still remember the mood.

Jul 11 11 - 7:52pm
Scott Lackey

Completely agree, Scott.

Jul 11 11 - 9:08pm
Alan Coffee

Completely disagree, Scott. But then again, I'm psychotic.

Jul 11 11 - 10:20pm
Alan Coffee

Well, hold on there. Back up the truck, Scott. I completely agree with you! I thought you were talking about something else. When we get to that, I'll completely disagree with you, and probably make veiled threats against you or something. Don't take it personally, I'm psychotic.

Jul 11 11 - 10:20pm
Alan Coffee

See, my personality has split and manifested itself thrice

Jul 11 11 - 10:22pm
Alan Coffee

But before the dark half of me takes over yet again, I disagree both with Scott and the part of me that agrees with him.

Jul 12 11 - 8:23pm
Alan Coffee

Hi all. It's the Dark Half, back again by poopular demand. I recant my prior attestations (especially the use of 'thrice' in a public forum - what was I thinking?) and avow that I am indeed the Dark Prince come back to roost upon your planet like the evil spawn of the loins of hell and ... oh, what was I saying? The Fog - what a great flick.

Oct 11 11 - 4:05am
Alan Coffee

The real Alan Coffee would never use the words "attestations", "avow" or "recant" you stupid cocksucker

Jul 09 11 - 11:04pm

yeah the fog was godawful. they live is #2 on my list. there's no better metaphor for the prevalence of psychopathy out there.

Jul 11 11 - 10:20pm
Scott Lackey

Except for Alan Coffee!

Jul 11 11 - 11:17pm
Alan Coffee

Amen, brotha.

Jul 12 11 - 8:25pm
Sam Tea

What about me? I'm psychotic as all shit! Watch this:
Alan Coffee: Hey, fuck you all niggas, I'm gonna kill every huskie in the hood! Yo!
Sam: See? I am being one bad assed mother fucker thrice over!

Jul 10 11 - 12:40pm

Glad to see The Thing ranked #1. I love this movie. I would rank Escape #2 , Halloween #3 and They Live #4. The Fog should be ranked higher. However having The Thing ranked #1 establishes all the credibility this list needs.

Jul 11 11 - 10:21pm
Scott Lackey

Shut the fuck up! Who cares how you'd rank them? It's not your column. The column's for the author. The comments are for the trolls. If you aren't in, then you're out. Don't make me come over there and beat the shit out of you.

Jul 12 11 - 12:25am

Troll 2 rules

Jul 12 11 - 10:05pm
Troll 2

Thanks bro!

Jul 12 11 - 10:26pm
Bogey 2

Troll bro!

Jul 15 11 - 1:13pm

Internet tough guys; gotta love 'em. Have had their bitch asses kicked all their lives, so they get revenge through the web. Hey Scott Lackey, good luck with that low self-esteem thing! Beotch!!

Jul 10 11 - 5:25pm

Prince of Darkness is my fav. The Fog I thought was kind of boring. Vampires wasn't so bad. Big Trouble In Little China scared the crap out of me when I was a little kid.

Jul 11 11 - 10:21pm
Alan Coffee

Last month?

Jul 11 11 - 3:38pm

What about "cigarette burns'. It may just be a TV episode from masters of Horror but it's up there with his best work....

Jul 11 11 - 11:25pm

Pro-Life was awesome, too. He made a lot of TV movies, though, none of which were covered.

Jul 12 11 - 10:06pm

I loved his pro-life stance! It made me want to snuggle up with him and his 'thing' stuffed animals alllll night long.

Jul 11 11 - 8:52pm

All John Carpenter flicks suck ass. He just sucks altogether. I wouldn't cross the street to spit on him.

Jul 11 11 - 9:07pm
Alan Coffee

I would if he was giving out candy. Then I'd spit on him.

Jul 11 11 - 10:23pm

Then he'd grab his candy back, and prolly kick you in the nuts.

Jul 11 11 - 10:29pm
Alan Coffee

And probably make it the story for his next movie

Jul 12 11 - 8:26pm
Scott Lackey

and likely make a million bucks at it.

ps - fuck you publius

Jul 11 11 - 11:23pm

John Carpenter and Kurt Russell - most successful actor/director relationship ever?

Jul 11 11 - 11:46pm

One of the best, for sure. But you've gotta keep in mind Dicaprio and Scorsese, P.T. Anderson and Seymour Hoffman, Lynch and Laura Dern, Scorsese and De Niro, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray, Kubrick and Sellers, Leone and Eastwood, Depp and Burton, Rafelson and Nicholson, De Palma and Pacino, Hitchcock and Stewart, Tarantino and Thurman, Spielberg and Hanks, Soderbergh and Clooney, Almodovar and Cruz, etc etc etc

Jul 12 11 - 10:06pm

No wait! Laurel and Hardy!

Jul 12 11 - 12:24am

Would you rather spoon with the thing or John Carpenter?

THING BAYBEE! getitgetit

Jul 12 11 - 1:10am
Alan Coffee

thing on thing on thing on thing again

Jul 12 11 - 1:14am
Alan Coffee

Hey! Get your own name!

Jul 12 11 - 8:27pm
Alan Coffee

I have spooned with The Thing and am here to ingest your cellular fluids in order to replicate my spawn cells to all of humanity! Hey - where are the Cheetos?

Jul 15 11 - 11:32am

I realize that part of the hook for a list like this is creating some controversy, but this list reads like you wrote down the names of Carpenter's films on cards and then shuffled them.

Jul 15 11 - 8:24pm

Clearly they fucking well did, dimwit.

Jul 19 11 - 10:48pm
Striped Boot Kicker

You both probably suck animals off. Just saying.

Jul 26 11 - 10:26pm

You make that sound as if it's a bad thing....

Jul 15 11 - 1:09pm

Village of the Damned over The Fog?- Ahahahahahahahahahahahah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stupid Cocknockers

Jul 15 11 - 8:23pm
Alan Coffee

@SSD - Don't be so hard on yourself, pal. You're not a stupid cocknockers, and you should never degrade or berate yourself. Hang in there bud, things will look up. Promise.

Jul 16 11 - 10:00pm

I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!

Jul 17 11 - 2:28pm

I thought you'd feel that way, Garry. You were the only one who could've gotten to that blood. We'll do you last.

Jul 22 11 - 6:21am

That's way more clever than I was eexpctnig. Thanks!

Jul 23 11 - 11:28am

I can arlaedy tell that's gonna be super helpful.

Sep 23 11 - 9:12am

You all suck you fuckin scrotum sacks.

Oct 09 11 - 7:05pm

Definatly. The Thing is the best.. my top 3 are The Thing,

Prince of Darkness and Big trouble in Little China

Oct 23 11 - 12:48am
macready's beard

Backflips, naked , spankin it! Giz on the ceiling

Nov 07 11 - 4:36am

Rarely a night goes by that I don't watch ALIEN or THE THING. My two favorite movies of all time. Who could not sit for two hours and watch Kurt Russell kick ass in a beard!!!!

Dec 13 11 - 11:09pm
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Jan 16 12 - 6:28am
Master in real estat

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Feb 08 12 - 9:41pm
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Feb 08 12 - 9:42pm
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Apr 02 12 - 4:32pm

from best to worst:

1. the thing
2. escape from new york
3. big trouble in little china
4. halloween
5. prince of darkness
6. the fog
7. they live
8.In the mouth of madness

The village, vampires, and the rest were .....meh at best. Never saw assault on precinct 13...

Apr 03 12 - 8:56pm
Jamie Helton

I think you accidentally switched "The Fog" with "Prince of Darkness." While both are filled with mood, "The Fog" is actually scary and delivers a creepy mythology, while "Prince of Darkness" is empty silliness.

Apr 25 12 - 12:26pm
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May 31 12 - 11:01pm
Bernie brock

The fog was his best movie. Sorry trolls you are wrong.

Jun 03 12 - 3:06am

Obv the answer is Halloween... the symbolism in They Live is amazing though

Jun 28 12 - 9:00pm

So terrible!